Explore the vineyards of Pelee Island, Canada’s rarest natural habitat.
While Pelee Island Winery is located in nearby Kingsville, taking the ferry across and touring the actual vineyards located on Pelee Island is an experience that no avid wine lover should miss. Daily tours running from May through October help visitors understand why this is such a unique place to grow grapes.
What follows is blogger, Daniel Desforges' account of his Pelee Island escape.
Why you simply must experience Ontario’s Southwest & Pelee Island
Pelee Island has been a destination on my personal to-do list for quite some time and when I was finally able to visit I knew it wouldn't be the last time. From my food experiences to the tranquility during the weekend away, this destination is one you simply have to experience to understand.
Off to Pelee Island, I drove to catch the Pelee Island Ferry in Leamington Ontario. Known as Canada’s rarest natural habitat, Pelee Island has much to offer those who love to explore and eat. A helpful hint to those planning their next getaway here, you'll need to book your ferry prior to arriving at the ferry terminal. With so many tourists taking the trip across Lake Erie, I recommend you do so nice and early to avoid missing out on precious time. I'll come back to Leamington, Ontario after I tell you about my beautiful weekend on the Island.
Upon arrival on the island, I was immediately greeted with this rustic sense of calmness. Having ridden the ferry for an hour and a half and leaving mainland Ontario behind, it's both literally and figuratively as though you are in a whole other world. There is a tangible untouched feeling to everything and it reminded me of memories at the cottage with family as a young boy.
My first stop on the Island was Pelee Island Winery. For years I've been enjoying the wine produced by one of Ontario's premiere wine labels but never had the chance to visit them. Most of the modern day production is now done at the winery in Kingsville Ontario, but the Pelee Island Wine Pavilion on the island located at 20 East-West Rd. is a picturesque destination for wine lovers of all kinds.
"Our pavilion is the hub of activity on the island during the Spring, Summer and Fall. Join us for an interactive wine tour, wine tasting at our tasting bar and browse our gift shop where you can purchase unique items including gift baskets ready to go or custom made.
Relax in our outdoor wine garden with a glass of wine while you enjoy the surroundings of our vineyard overlooking Lake Erie. Light snacks and 'you BBQ' items available at our Deli Hut will compliment your wine of choice while you enjoy live entertainment every Saturday and Sunday afternoon."
The quaint restaurant in the Pavilion has premade or ready to cook options for its guests. I opted to enjoy the Bearclaw Burger which I cooked myself on the BBQ. Word to the wise for those of you who haven't been to Pelee Island, make sure to pack a sweater. Though it was a beautiful sunny day, the wind had a chill to it and you'll appreciate the advice if faced with these gusts during your visit.
After lunch, I took the wine tour with a knowledgeable winery staff member. We saw the wine growing process, learned about the fascinating history of the winery and its roots in Vin Villa Winery, which was Canada's first Winery. And of course, in classic wine tour fashion, ended with a tasting of some of the delicious Pelee Winery wines. For $5, this is an experience you can't afford to miss! One of the things I came to learn that will always stick with me is that Pelee Island is a unique microclimate as the southernmost point of Canada and therefore has the longest growing season of the entire country.
After several delicious wines, it was time to check into my B&B of choice for the weekend. Since Pelee Island is still so quaint (there are only 200 permanent residents who live there year-round), you won't find traditional hotels there. B&Bs are the way to go for those of you staying overnight or for a few days and truly speak to the hospitality and warmth of the island.
I chose to stay at Lucky Stone Beach House B&B (located at 295 North Shore Road) for the night and enjoyed "The Yellow Room." For those of you who haven't stayed at a B&B, you should know that it's a room in someone's house. Traditional ideas of a hotel don't apply and you share common spaces with fellow travelers. Jeri, the lovely hostess, and owner of the B&B was beyond helpful in guiding my experience on Pelee Island. She even helped to point out some beautiful scenic places to take photos and enjoy a walk while visiting.
Dropping off my Rudsak bag as a perfect overnighter, I washed my face in the shared bathroom and headed out to explore the island. As I drove around, the "small town" feeling was contagious. I found myself waving back at every car I drove by (a custom I came to quickly learn was common on the island) and smiling for no reason. The charm of Ontario's Southwest seemed to have set in and I was perfectly fine with that. The island itself is full of nature walks and secret passages into the wilderness. It becomes enchanting to lose yourself in them and let go.
Those of you who'd rather park the car and enjoy the island on foot, you can do so easily. Bike culture is ever present and smiling cyclists are everywhere enjoying the continuous coastal view of beautiful Lake Erie. I worked up quite an appetite exploring the island and went looking for a delicious dinner. Thankfully I found Anchor & Wheel Inn which is one of the island's most talked about locations, located at 11 West Shore Road.
Quirky is a good word to describe the Anchor & Wheel Inn. There's a B&B, guest houses and the restaurant.
I may not personally love the decor but I respect it for being memorable. Settled into the dining room, I ordered a glass of Pelee Island Wine and soaked up my surroundings. It's not a visit to Lake Erie and Ontario's Southwest without eating fresh pickerel. So, that's what I ordered and was presented with the biggest dinner portion I've eaten in a long time!
It's a perfect hangout spot with friends after a day in the sun or a romantic dinner for two. There's a lot going on here, and there's a lot offered for you to experience. Anchor & Wheel Inn is a must when you visit Pelee Island and you'll quickly fall in love with it like I did.
A busy day on the island would not be complete without watching a sunset over Lake Erie. I was left to think big thoughts among a beautiful scene I shared with no one but the summer breeze and sand. Quite a powerful moment and certainly a romantic one I look forward to experiencing with Julio the next time I visit the island with him.
Remember being a kid and running around all day long in the summer to the point where when your head hit the pillow, you fell fast asleep? That was me after Day 1 on Pelee Island. Back to the B&B I went for a long hot shower and a good night's sleep. Bright and early I awoke on Day 2 to catch my ferry back to mainland Ontario. As mentioned it is so important to book your ferry prior to your travel plans to ensure you get prime time slots because they fill up quickly. I had to catch the 8 am ferry or else I would have had no other option. Click here to check the ferry schedule when planning your trip to Pelee Island.
Jeri, being the perfect hostess, was awake with fresh coffee and lemon blueberry loaf for my drive back to Toronto. It's that simple act and kindness for her guests that I'll remember the most. With coffee and breakfast in hand, I put my bag in the 2015 Focus Titanium (did I mention I also bought a LOT of wine. That'll happen to you too so make sure you have room in the trunk) and headed home.
Back in Leamington, I realized there was much more to see before heading back to my daunting schedule. Fun fact about Leamington, Ontario is that it is Canada's leading producer of tomatoes. There is a stretch of highway with greenhouses as far as the eye can see. The expression farmers feed cities came to mind as I drove by and I came to realize that this beautiful destination not only serves as a place to travel to but also feeds us year round.
A tour of Point Pelee National Park, located at 1118 Point Pelee Drive, was a must on my personal to-do list while in the area. At the end of a winding road lined with bungalow cottages that kiss the coast of the lake, the park graciously welcomes you. It's strange to me to stop and realize how much I miss the smell of nature until I don't have it back in Toronto. Yes, we have green spaces and beautiful gardens... but we don't have the grounded sentiment of Point Pelee National Park. Not to that scale at least.
"A lush Carolinian forest oasis at the southern tip of Canada, Point Pelee National Park resounds with migrating songbirds in the spring, hums with cicadas in the summer, flutters with Monarch butterflies in the fall and is a peaceful place of reflection in the winter."
After touring the park, I made a stop at the Leamington Farmer's Market to get some fresh produce before heading home to Julio. With great restaurants in the area such as Jack’s Gastropub or even heading to Mastronardi Estate Winery for another wine tour, there is so much to do back on the mainland after a visit to Pelee Island. The expansive region is so relaxing, you won't want to leave. I know that I certainly didn't.
With so many beautiful and delicious reasons to visit Ontario's Southwest, you should start planning your trip today! Hard working farmers & food artisans produce some of the best ingredients for talented chefs who truly understand the big flavours that come from locally sourced products. It's what makes Ontario's Southwest a great culinary destination.
For beautiful Ontario homegrown travel, make sure to follow @OntSouthwest & @TWEPI on Twitter and Instagram. Use the #OSWPourAway & #OSWDigIn hashtags to join in on the social media conversation. We can't wait to be a part of your memories!